January 29, 2004

January 29, 2004 | Commentary on Political Thought

Kindergarten Foreign Policy

Americans don't normally elect their presidents on foreign policy, but in some way, the 2004 election looks as though it could depart from precedent. Iraq is constantly in the evening news, and the war has playeda major role in the Democratic primaries. President Bush placed Iraq and the war on terror front and center in this State of the Union speech last week,the kickoff for his re-election campaign.

And yet, one could wish for a higher level of discourse on this undeniably important subject, and one could wish for other foreign policy issues to be discussed as well. There is a whole host of them that will affect this country's future that deserve to be aired between now and the election.

How will the war on terror affect this country in the long term? Where does the doctrine of pre-emption lead us? What kind of military do we need? What kind of superpower do we want to be? Who should be our allies, shifting coalitions or traditional (if difficult) alliance partners? Are we still in favor of free trade? And if so, why is everybody afraid to talk about it? Are we in favor of reforming the United Nations or is the U.N. system simply a last resort when all other policy options fail?

And needless to say, should the situation in Iraq go bad, or another terrorist attack hit the American homeland, it will certainly effect the outcome in November. Along with the U.S. economy, no other issue has such potential to influence the election. Furthermore, the outcome of Iraq will have huge consequences for the United States' role in the world, for the war on terrorism and for the Middle East.

But the Democratic candidates have mainly had a field day pointing fingers over Iraq, sometimes at the president, sometimes at other Democrats. Hardly ever does the level of discourse rise above the level of sandbox "nya-nya-nya" and "you voted for the Iraq war and I didn't, ha, ha."

|Front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has had to twist himself into a pretzel to explain why he voted for the war resolution, and yet since has been vociferously criticizing the president's every move in the war. He would have done something quite different with the power conferred by Congress, so Mr. Kerry claims.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina tries to explain that yes, he did support the war, but not the supplementary funding for the war - which seems rather churlish, when you think about it.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who seems to have been separated from Mr. Spock of Star Trek at birth, sounds almost as though he comes from outer space. He would turn Iraq over to U.N. peacekeepers this very minute, and beyond that, proposes to have "a very infinitely interesting journey to planet Earth." Interesting. The Rev. Al Sharpton has proposed to solve the problem of Iraq with foreign trade and aid.

Howard Dean at least has been consistent in his opposition to the war, and loves to stick it to his opponents. His statements, though, are mind-blowing at times, such as this one from Sunday, "You can say that it's great that Saddam is gone, and I'm sure that a lot of Iraqis feel its great that Saddam is gone. But a lot of them gave their lives. And their standard of living is a whole lot worse now than it was before." Presumably that does not include victims of torture and terror.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark has shown a remarkable talent for shooting himself in the foot with indefensible and clumsy attacks on Mr. Bush. He even seemed to agreewithsupporter Michael Moore's bizarre claim that Mr. Bush was a "deserter." As recorded in the Weekly Standard's cover story this week, "Does Wesley Clark Have a Prayer?" the general has veered from praising Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for their "resolve in the face of so much doubt" to calling the Bush presidency "the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory."

But how exactly winning a war against a small European tin-pot dictator in Serbia makes any man an expert on all of U.S. foreign policy (and domestic as well), the general has never managed to explain.

The one exception in this tit-for-tat game has been Sen. Joseph Lieberman, whose serious and principled defense of his vote in favor of the war resolution, as well as the Iraq supplemental, have been a breath of fresh air. Mr. Lieberman actually sounds like a grown-up. Too bad so few people have been listening.

Helle Dale is Deputy Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times